No doubt about it; the introduction will make or break a speech. Within the span of 30 seconds to a minute, the audience will know if the speech is going to be a good one or a bad one. That is, they’ll know if they want to listen to it or break out their cell phones and start texting friends and family. So, you need to quickly develop a topic in a way that will get the audience interested. While there are any number of ways to do this, there is a basic formula you can use that will quickly get you into the body of your speech and allow the audience an opportunity to determine just how good or useful the presentation will be.
There are five basic elements to a good introduction: the attention getter, stating the topic/problem, credibility, impact on the audience, and (most importantly) the preview of main points.
The first thing you say or do, by definition, becomes your attention getter. This is why we spent a little time establishing Rule #1 (Never ever start with “My speech is about…”). When you start with something like weak (like saying, “Okay, I’m really nervous, so be cool” or “This speech is about computers and stuff”), you are essentially admitting that your speech is not all that good. You might have some good information, but you clearly lack polish. Growing up in a world of entertainment (thanks to mass media), we like polished products. So you need to bring in something a little extra.
What exactly is that something extra? I’ll leave that to you, but a few ideas include:
- Ask a rhetorical question (please, not “How are you?”) pertaining to the topic
- State an important fact
- Use a quote
- Tell an interesting story that begins to illustrate the idea of the speech
Be creative. The audience will appreciate it.
“Ever wish you could save a few hundred dollars?”
Yeah, it’s that easy.
State the Topic/Problem
Once you get the attention of the audience, you need to give them some idea of where this is going. So, for example, if you got them into the speech by asking a question like “Ever wish you could save a few hundred dollars?” you have our attention, but what does this pertain to? Are you talking about how to budget money? Are you talking about shopping tips or tricks? Swindling passers-by with a shell game?
This statement clears up the confusion.
“Building your own computer can save you hundreds of dollars over purchasing a computer.”
Ah! Now, you’re talking. This is much preferable to saying, “Ever think about building a computer? Well, I’ll show you how.” Big deal. Who cares? But, this idea of saving money sounds good, and if I have to build a computer to save some money, maybe I will. Maybe I will…
You’ve got the audience’s attention, and they now have some idea of what you are suggesting (in this case, building a computer). Now, you need some credibility.
You can probably state that you assemble your own computers as a hobby. That might work. But, you might also consider bringing in some outside sources that lets the audience know you know your stuff. In other words, do you have evidence to support the claim that building a computer is cheaper than buying one?
“Brand X Computers states that their latest computer, the Whiz Bang Quad-Core 3.0 costs about $1,300 including shipping and handling, but looking at ComputerParts-a-Plenty’s website shows that buying each part will cost you only $795 including shipping.”
Yes, I realize that I’m using fake companies (to protect the innocent), but you get the idea. Use actual sources and real numbers, and you’ll earn that credibility.
Impact on the Audience
Sometimes, this is built into the topic. Sometimes, it’s somewhere in the credibility portion of the introduction. But, sometimes, it just needs to be stated outright:
“So, building your own computer could save you just over $500 dollars, and in today’s uncertain economy, that’s a significant savings.”
This would work a lot better than trying to make a claim like “Everyone needs computers, so I’ll show you how to build one.” First, where’s the evidence that supports the claim? Does everyone really need a computer? Maybe, maybe not, but we need to know where you got your facts to support that. And second, you’re making a leap from needing one to building one. Why not just buy one? Of course, the answer is: to save money! That’s why you made the claim in the first place, so go back and refer to it.
The Preview Statement
This is perhaps the most important element in the introduction. It’s basically a list of the main points you will cover. You can even restate the purpose. But, the important thing is that the audience gets a list of all the points you will cover.
“To show you how to build a computer, we will consider the processor, the motherboard, memory, and storage space to help you to learn how to build a computer so you can save some serious cash.”
Put It All Together
Put it all together, and you have yourself an introduction that may not be as dynamic as a professionally packaged presentation from a major ad agency or marketing firm, but you have something that will pique curiosity, show proficiency and competence, and outline a plan that can be easily followed throughout the rest of the presentation (see if you notice the little extra added into this introduction):
“Ever wish you could save a few hundred dollars? The Census Bureau reported that median income in the U.S. was just over $50,000 in 2007, but with the stock market in turmoil, dropping to just above 7,000, down from a high of 14,000 in October of 2007, Americans are starting to feel the pinch. How can you save money with so little money and still enjoy all the technological amenities we’ve come to take as granted in our society? Let’s consider the idea of saving on technology costs. In fact, building your own computer can save you hundreds of dollars over purchasing a computer. Brand X Computers’ website states that their latest computer, the Whiz Bang Quad-Core 3.0 costs about $1,300 including shipping and handling, but looking at ComputerParts-a-Plenty’s website shows that buying each part will cost you only $795 including shipping. So, building your own computer could save you just over $500 dollars, and in today’s uncertain economy, that’s a significant savings. To show you how to build a computer, we will consider the processor, the motherboard, memory, and storage space to help you to learn how to build a computer so you can save some serious cash.”
Not too shabby!
Yes, a little smoothing between the major components was done, and needs to be done, but it really is a simple matter of connecting the dots. Keeping in mind the basic elements of the introduction will allow you the opportunity to build these connecting statements and ultimately a memorable introduction.